Weekly Wrap Up
11 August 2023
To receive regular policy and political updates, subscribe to our Weekly Wrap Up here.
- The Federal Government released its response to the PwC matter and announced a series of changes to the tax system, including an increase to the maximum penalties for advisers and firms that promote tax exploitation schemes to over $780 million.
- China removed its 80.5 per cent tariff on Australian barley. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flagged a potential meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 Summit in India.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he will travel to the United States from 23 to 26 October for an official visit hosted by US President Joe Biden.
- Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones released the terms of reference for the Parliamentary Inquiry into insurer responses to the 2022 floods in South-East Queensland and NSW.
- Victorian Member for Ringwood Will Fowles resigned from the Labor Party following allegations of assault.
- ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold resigned from his role after a report[PDF] into the investigation of Bruce Lehrmann made “findings of serious misconduct” against him.
Parliamentary Sitting Week
In Federal Parliament this week, the Opposition’s attempt to block the Government’s 60-day prescription scheme was unsuccessful after the Senate voted against the motion. Under the Government’s dispensing changes, patients will be able to buy two months’ worth of medicines for the price of a single prescription. The Coalition had previously announced it would introduce a motion to disallow the regulations due to concerns that the Government had not appropriately consulted with pharmacists before implementing it and that it would harm the viability of community pharmacies. Despite the Senate voting against the disallowance motion, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie announced the Coalition will relodge the motion for the next sitting week in September. The policy will come into effect before then, on 1 September, however, Health Minister Mark Butler indicated he will seek legal advice about the validity of the policy if the disallowance motion is successful in September.
Meanwhile, the Government also introduced the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service Bill 2023 to establish a human resources agency aimed at combatting workplace misconduct in Parliament House. The bill is a response to recommendations made by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her 2021 review[PDF] into commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. Also in the House, the Government’s multinational tax bill passed, which was a pre-election commitment aimed at combatting multinational tax avoidance. Meanwhile, the Jobs and Skills Australia Amendment Bill 2023 passed the Parliament, amending a series of governance provisions relating to the functions of the body. Also in the Senate, the Greens successfully referred the Government’s mandatory gas code for inquiry, and introduced the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 which proposes to permit adult recreational use of cannabis across the country.
Voice to Parliament discussions continued this week, following Prime Minister Albanese’s return from the Garma Festival in the Northern Territory. On Sunday, Mr Albanese made a plea to Australian voters, calling the upcoming referendum a “once in a generation opportunity” and in response to questions about legislating the Voice if the referendum fails, the Prime Minister outlined that he is not considering the “hypotheticals of what will occur”. Meanwhile, Western Australian Premier Roger Cook confirmed the Government will reverse its cultural heritage laws that required landholders to conduct cultural assessments before commencing projects, and instead make some amendments to the original legislation. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton supported the WA Government’s decision, indicating it had “unintended consequences” but could be rescinded unlike the Voice which “would be permanent”.
Victorian, WA and Tasmanian Parliaments sit next week. Elsewhere, National Cabinet is meeting in Brisbane on Wednesday to discuss matters relating to housing and planning reforms.
The Government released a consultation paper examining the regulatory framework for managed investment schemes to examine whether the framework remains fit-for-purpose and adequately protects investors. The paper is seeking feedback on a number of matters, including whether the wholesale client threshold should be increased. Consultation will close on 29 September.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) published[PDF] its Statement on Monetary Policy, detailing the Bank’s assessment of the current economic conditions along with the outlook for Australian inflation and output growth. Of note, the RBA forecasts that inflation is expected to decline to reach 3.25 per cent at the end of 2024 and back within the target range in late 2025.
Treasury opened consultation on exposure draft legislation which would exempt foreign financial services providers from requiring to hold an Australian financial service licence. Consultation will close on 8 September.
RBA Governor Philip Lowe appeared before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics for the final time in his role as Governor. Lowe’s remarks related to the outlook for inflation and the economy, the Banks’ recent monetary policy decisions, and the implementation of the RBA Review.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy released Australia’s new International Development Policy which aims to advance Australia’s interests in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The framework outlines new requirements for Australia’s foreign aid spending, including that all new international development projects over $3 million need to include gender and climate objectives.
Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell directed the Joint Standing Committee for Trade and Investment Growth to inquire into the Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements with international partners. The inquiry will investigate whether Australia’s trade agreements are benefiting the future of the economy and delivering appropriate outcomes for Australians.
The Government released its response to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into international armed conflict decision making. The Government provided in-principle and a broad agreement for the report’s seven recommendations, including the establishment of a new Joint Statutory Committee on Defence.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Government announced appointments to the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Board, including Martijn Wilder AM as the Chair. The Board will be responsible for overseeing investment decisions relating to the NRF’s priority areas: renewables and low emissions technologies; medical science; transport; value-add in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sectors; value-add in resources; defence capability; and enabling capabilities.
Minister for Resources Madeleine King confirmed the Government will not build a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility near Kimba in South Australia. The decision comes after the Federal Court ruled that the region’s traditional owners were not adequately consulted by the former Coalition Government.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese committed $38 million to support trials of drought-resilient farming practices as part of the Future Drought Fund. The trials will be conducted over six years to support farmers prepare for drought, with grants awarded to projects across Australia.
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek released a local community consultation report on the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The report came after the Government announced the project will not be completed on time, and included input on protecting native fish, river operations, infrastructure projects and landholder partnerships.
Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff announced the establishment of the Renewable Energy Dividend (RED) Scheme which aims to provide energy bill relief to Tasmanians from the next financial year. Under the RED scheme, each year that Hydro returns dividends above $100 million, Tasmanians will receive a financial credit on their energy bill.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Housing and Homelessness Julie Collins announced the Government will develop a new National Housing and Homelessness Plan with state and territory governments to inform future housing and homelessness reforms in Australia. Consultation is open on the Issues Paper until 22 September.
Minster for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King announced the appointment of Peter Wilson to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau Commission. As Commissioner, Wilson will be responsible for transport safety and influencing safety action.
Applications opened for the Government’s Regional Level Crossing Upgrade Fund, which aims to improve railway crossing safety projects in regional areas. The fund will be allocated to projects over four years, with $40 million available annually. Applications for the current round of funding are open until 29 September.
HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND EDUCATION
Minister for Aged Care Annika Wells released the results of the first month of data collected from aged care homes requiring registered nurses to be on-site, reporting that on average, there is a registered nurse on-site in aged care homes 98 per cent of the time and 86 per cent of facilities have a nurse on-site 24/7.
Minister for Health Mark Butler announced consultation on the eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement (CPA) will open soon. The CPA outlines the Australian Government’s agreement to reimburse pharmacists for dispensing subsidised medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and to support community pharmacy medication management programs and services.
The Department of Health opened consultation on industrially produced trans fats in processed foods. The consultation will help inform the Government’s approach to reduce or eliminate trans fats across Australia and New Zealand’s food supply. Consultation will close on 15 September.
NSW Minister for Health Ryan Park confirmed nurses and midwives will receive a 4.5 per cent salary increase, including 0.5 per cent superannuation as part of the Government’s Fair Pay Policy, which will also remove the wage cap from September. The announcement comes after 58 per cent of members from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association voted for the increase.
The NSW Government also announced it will double financial incentives for healthcare workers that relocate to remote and rural areas in an effort to reduce workforce shortages across the state. Along with increased payments from $10,000 to $20,000, the Rural Health Workplace Incentive Scheme will provide a range of non-financial bonuses for eligible workers.
The Western Australian Government released the findings of an independent review of its COVID-19 management and response. The review examined WA’s economic, social and health outcomes during and post-pandemic and made 35 recommendations, including a campaign to tackle vaccine misinformation and disinformation.